Friday, February 24, 2012

US senators meet Cuban president over detained American

Photo caption: Cuba's President Raul Castro, right, speaks with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, left, a Democrat from Vermont, as U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, behind right, watches.

The AP reports: Two senior U.S. senators met with Cuban President Raul Castro in the first such high-level meeting between the Cold War enemies in nearly a year, Cuban state media reported Friday.

Communist Party daily Granma said that Senators Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, met yesterday with the Cuban leader.

The talks come during a low-point in U.S.-Cuba relations over the continued detention of American subcontractor Alan Gross. Gross is serving a 15-year jail term on the island for spiriting in communications equipment while on a USAID-funded democracy building program.

Granma did not say what was discussed, though virtually all American visitors have raised Gross's case with Cuban authorities, and many have been allowed to meet with him behind bars.

Leahy said today that he also met with Gross. However, speaking about efforts to get Gross released, Leahy said: "We have a long way to go."

The senator said the meeting with Castro was cordial. He said the Cuban leader raised the issue of five Cuban agents sentenced to long jail terms in the United States, although Castro never explicitly said Cuba was looking to link Gross' fate to theirs.

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